“What do you want me to say, Paige?” he asks.
For the life of me, in this moment, I don’t know that I can answer him. Because really, there isn’t just one thing I want him to say. There are a million.
I want him to say he’s making a mistake.
He didn’t mean the things he said.
When he pictures his future, I’m right there, standing beside him, holding his hand—no matter what people think.
But I know he won’t say those things.
The man is breaking up with me—though, clearly, I thought we were much more ‘together’ than he did. It would be foolish of me to ask him to change his mind.
So instead, I try to grasp at the only thing that feels like it might still be in my control.
“We were something, though…weren’t we? Something real?”
He grimaces and looks away, like he’s embarrassed for me.
And I get it. I really do.
Because I should be embarrassed, too.
But I’m not.
I’m not embarrassed by how much this feels like begging for scraps. I’m not embarrassed that I probably look like trash while he stands there in his expertly tailored suit. I’m not embarrassed that I know his friends are listening in the other room, if the obnoxiously loud sound of silence is anything to go by.
No. I’m none of those things.
Instead, I’m desperate.
Desperate for him to acknowledge what we had. Desperate to know the words we spoke to each other were real. Desperate to be reassured that I didn’t spend weeks falling in love with a man who thinks we were nothing.
Thinks I’m nothing.
Tears track down my face as he remains silent, and when I finally realize he doesn’t plan to say anything in response, I do the only thing I can think of.
(six weeks earlier)
There’s something bittersweet about living at the beach when the end of summer finally rolls around.
On one hand, it feels like life reverts back to normal as the tourists and families all return to their everyday routines. The long, concrete stretch of The Strand that divides the multi-million-dollar homes of Hermosa Beach from the sand and surf seems to empty almost overnight, leaving behind only the early morning joggers and elderly residents walking their dogs.
The beach itself suddenly becomes barren, apart from the South Bay locals who venture out on the weekends and the surf bums who only use the sand as a walking path to get to and from the water. The bars and clubs that are mixed in with small shops on Hermosa Avenue stay busy but not overflowing, familiar faces becoming easier to spot in the mix.
As someone who enjoys the feeling of a swelling crowd, I’d actually argue that the sudden disappearance of the masses is the bitter part, not the sweet. There’s something indescribably fun about the excitement that ebbs and flows through my beachside hometown during the summer months, and I’d wager a guess that I’m one of only a few year-round residents who doesn’t find enjoyment in the slightly slower pace of life in Hermosa during the other three seasons of the year.
I’m a night owl. A party girl. An energetic bee-bop of fun who enjoys concerts and bars and live music at the pier. I love having a few drinks while getting ready before a busy night on the town with my girlfriends. I’m energized by the crush of bodies on the dance floor.
Maybe I was just born that way, or maybe it comes from having a father with Peter Pan Syndrome who owns several of the most successful hotspots in town. My prepubescent years were spent in loud venues, surrounded by bands and crowds and alcohol. It wasn’t uncommon for me to fudge my way through homework at a bar top or spend an evening tucked in the corner of the VIP lounge while my father schmoozed with other important people. Congressmen. Local politicians. Entrepreneurs with clout and capital rivaling his own.
I was raised amidst the deafening sounds of music and parties and flowing liquor. So for me, the bitter part of the summer’s bittersweet end is the sudden and nearly overwhelming quiet that seems to hush a 30-mile radius around my family’s oceanfront home. The bitter is the emptiness I feel at the absence of the masses crowding the sand and the bars and the restaurants.
There’s a loneliness that comes along with the end of the summer, and I haven’t ever been a fan of sitting around long enough to let it seep into my bones.
Instead, I focus on the silver lining. The little bit of sweet mixed in with all that bitter. The days get shorter, the world gets darker, and the temperature begins to shift ever so slightly.
I’m sure it isn’t noticeable to residents of states with actual seasons, but to me—a born-and-raised SoCal girl—it’s as visible as the bubble of smog that hovers over downtown LA.
Around mid-September, as we creep toward a time change and it begins to get darker earlier, the temperature starts to dip into the 50s at night and in the early hours of the morning. The constant heat of Southern California continues during the day, and I will never not take advantage of being able to wear a bikini in December.
But the nights?
I love the nights.
Illicit fun happens in the cool autumn nights, and that’s the sweet part for me.
Taking another long pull from my second gin and tonic of the evening, I refocus my waning attention on my best friend as she gives another brief speech up on the stage. Lennon has been working her ass off on this event for months—a fundraiser for the 50th anniversary of the Bernard J. Roth Preparatory Academy, where we went to school together growing up. Her welcome address when we first sat down to dinner an hour ago was beautiful, with just the right hint of nostalgia and touch of humor to have everyone smiling wistfully and chuckling at their tables.
She was so nervous when she practiced her speech for me earlier this week, but as she stood up there and shared little bits of history, school tradition, and local folklore, the crowd hung on her every word. Her delivery, tone, timing…it was all exceptional, and I don’t doubt she could feel it.
Now, as she informs everyone that the evening will move from the promenade, where we’ve all been enjoying a formal, sit-down dinner, to the atrium at the center of the campus for more drinks and festivities, I can tell she’s finally slipped into a groove, a place of quiet self-confidence.
It makes me happy for her, happy she’s thriving in her new job at the Roth Foundation. It’s her family’s legacy in action, after all.
“I’ll catch up with you,” Lucas says, giving me a peck on the temple. “I wanna go check in with Len first. Grab a drink for me?”
I nod, giving him a smile. “Sure. But don’t hold it against me if I drink it myself when you take too long.”
He laughs and squeezes my hand then slips through the crowd, heading away from our table and moving in the direction of the stage, toward where Lennon is talking with some of the other foundation staff. I watch as Lucas steps off to the side to wait for Lennon to finish her conversation then slips up behind her and whispers into her ear once the others have walked off. The smile that stretches across her face is magical, and I turn away, not wanting to intrude on their moment.
I’m happy for them. After facing so much hardship and drama, they’ve finally managed to find each other. A perfect match, and god knows they’ve faced an avalanche trying to get to this point together.
During this particular summer, though—when I’m feeling like a lonely single person and facing my mother’s constant nagging that I have no real direction in life—I can’t help feeling a smidgeon of jealousy. There’s a constant voice, an irritable little she-devil with attitude and sass that tells me I’ll never find the kind of happiness Lucas and Lennon found. It tells me a lasting relationship isn’t in the cards for my future.
I’m too complicated.
Not worth the trouble.
And worse, broken beyond repair. Damaged goods.
Thankfully, I’m really good at keeping that bitchy she-devil tucked away and drowning in gin.
As long as it’s clear and keeps the calorie count low, another requirement from my mother. “Drink if you must, but don’t add to your waistline. No need to fall even further off the deep end.”
I roll my eyes and shake my head, trying to push her ever-present voice out of my mind as I follow in the wake of my fellow alumni, across the promenade that overlooks the sports fields then down the steps that lead to the center of campus.
Roth Prep really was a breathtaking place to attend school, even if I never cared enough to notice during those formative years.
Tucked along the south edge of Hermosa Beach, it rests at the top of one of the rolling hills that unfurl toward the water. From the promenade where we were having dinner, there are views of Hermosa Avenue, the pier, and the ocean in the distance. Add to that the pale pink, cloudless sky and the setting sun on the horizon?
Like I said…breathtaking.
Its beauty didn’t stop me from loathing this school’s very existence when I was a student, though, and I’ve had to keep myself from laughing a few times this evening as I’ve overheard conversations between my schoolmates about how much they miss their days as a Roth Prep Royal.
Seriously…who picks Royals as a mascot? Talk about pretentious.
There are hundreds of former students in attendance tonight from every graduating class over the past 50 years. Some are here with spouses and partners and friends, while others have come solo, like myself. It’s the ‘see and be seen’ event of the season in the South Bay, and I had to work hard not to roll my eyes at all the glad-handing that was occurring when I arrived earlier.
It should be fun. A chance to reconnect with some of my former school friends who have moved away or that I haven’t seen since graduation six years ago. But as I grip the handrail and take the steps carefully so my clumsy ass doesn’t tumble all the way to the bottom, I’m not thinking about the familiar faces I’ve been seeing all over this evening.
Instead, all I can focus on is the infuriating conversation I recently had with my mother. Most of the conversations we have are…stiff. Uncomfortable. Full of chastisement for just about every component of who I am as a person or critiques about the way I’m floundering through life. But this one was just…beyond the pale, especially when she decided to drag my least favorite topic into the mix: my ex-boyfriend Giroux.
Simply remembering her words makes my blood start to boil. It’s been the main source of my frustration for days, and it doesn’t seem like a night out in the company of my peers is doing anything to distract me from playing it over and over again.
“Maybe if you’d paid a little more attention to your physique, he wouldn’t have gone searching elsewhere,” she said, her eyes narrowed at me from across the room.
I’ve never met a woman so capable of making me feel like nothing with so few words. As if I’m responsible for the fact that the bastard has a wandering eye.
I let out a huff of irritated breath at the thought, but then I push my shoulders back and step into the center atrium, choosing to focus on the here and now instead of the there and then.
Lifting my eyes, I take in the beautiful decor and expensive lights that make this space seem so much more grand than what it felt like back in my early teens. But I only stop to take in Lennon’s beautiful vision for a brief moment before I continue in the direction I was headed—in search of the bar, hoping another drink or two will help me silence the bitchy voice in my head.
“Gin and tonic, please,” I say once I’ve finally made it to the bar in the corner, having slipped through the crowd that has formed around the silent auction tables. “Monkey 47.”
The bartender nods and turns to grab my preferred gin from the fancy array of bottles displayed artfully behind him.
A long whistle from my right has me turning to look at the lone man standing next to me at the other end of the bar.
“Fancy stuff,” he says, a soft grin resting on his face. “A buddy of mine bought me a bottle as a goodbye gift earlier this year. Five hundred bucks a pop.”
And then he turns to the side and rests an elbow on the bar, opening up his chest toward me in a way that makes it nearly impossible for me to do anything other than eye him from head to toe.
He’s wearing a perfectly fitted suit that encases his long, muscular body so well it almost distracts from the Tom Fords on his feet that are a few seasons old. He’s definitely not my age—mid-thirties, probably—with a tiny bit of gray at his temples and lightly dusting his scruffy beard as proof.
My eyes drop to his hands, noting the absence of a wedding band, before roaming across his broad chest and returning to some of the most gorgeous blue eyes I’ve ever seen.
A girl could drown in those stormy blues.
Good thing I’m a woman and have sailed in enough rough waters not to let myself get lost.
“I might not know the cost of the bottle, but I do know I like my drinks from the top shelf,” I reply, shifting my weight slightly so I’m facing him as well.
He bobs his head and tucks his hands into his pockets. “Most people here seem to like that.”
“And you don’t?”
I ask because I want to know what he likes, but also because it’s a rare occurrence for me to meet someone who doesn’t want top-shelf everything.
Drinks. Cars. Houses. Vacations. Electronics.
I grew up with the best of everything at my fingertips, so the concept of rejecting the best to go with something else is a foreign one, without a doubt.
He lifts a shoulder, his eyes dropping to watch as the bartender sets my drink in front of me with a flourish.
“Just because something is top shelf doesn’t mean it’s appealing to everyone,” he says. “It just means it’s the most expensive.”
“Which is usually a reflection of the quality.”
The guy chuckles, the sound deep and throaty, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it stirred something down in my belly.
“Usually,” he tells me, his eyes returning to mine and arresting me where I stand. “But not always.”
And just like that, I’ve found my new obsession: to get this man to look deep into my eyes like that for as long as I can bear it. Because damn if it doesn’t nearly knock me off my feet.
“For you, sir?”
My attractive new friend glances at me before looking at the bartender.
“I’ll have the same.”
We both wait in silence, though I don’t hide the fact that I’m continuing to drink him in where he stands.
When the bartender finally places the cocktail in front of him, I lift mine in the air and make a toast.
“To expensive, top-shelf quality,” I say, my lips turning up at the sides.
He takes a step closer to me, clinking his glass against mine before I take a long, refreshing sip.
He watches me for just a moment before taking his own swig.
I don’t know what it is about this man and this…I don’t know…strangely flirtatious interaction, but it has me hoping this night is salvageable. I wasn’t looking for a hookup when I first got here—too many old friends from the past and none of them my type—but this guy…
He seems different than the boys I normally meet.
“I didn’t catch your name,” I say, realizing I suddenly want to know who he is more than anything else.
“Logan.” His strong hand reaches out toward me. “Nice to meet you.”
Shifting my drink to the other hand, I grin as I slip my palm against his, enjoying the firm grip and warmth of him pressed against my skin.
“And you as well. I’m—”
One of my eyebrows rises, and I say the only thing that comes to mind. “I’m sure I would remember if we’d met before.”
He chuckles and shakes his head then eyes me quickly up and down. “Not officially. I’m sitting at a table with some of your friends. Ben and Remmy? You sat down with us for a little bit earlier.”
My nose scrunches up without my permission. I might be on better terms with my friend Wyatt’s older brother and his fiancée—enough to be curious about the gargantuan bling I saw on her left ring finger when she arrived earlier tonight—but that doesn’t mean I’d go so far as to call them friends.
There’s a bit of bad blood between myself and Remmy, a history. It’s hard to like someone when you feel like they’re the worst thing to ever happen to your best friend. But thankfully, she’s moved on, leaving Lennon and Lucas alone, so it’s time I start to move on as well, I guess.
The fact that she’s engaged to the other Calloway, though…it still blows my mind. I never could have imagined something like that happening in a million years. But having seen them together a few times now, it makes sense, in some weird way.
“I wouldn’t call us friends,” I tell him, trying to find the most honest yet diplomatic way to frame it. “There’s just a lot of…history,” I answer. “Hermosa Beach is nothing if not a town full of baggage.”
That’s when he gives me a grin I can feel down into my toes. “Now, isn’t that the truth.”
“Sounds like you have your own experience to speak from.”
He bobs his head and takes a long sip of his drink. “I guess you could say that.”
We stand in silence for a moment longer, eyeing each other flirtatiously before I take a step closer to him, my drink in hand.
Maybe it’s the alcohol coursing through my system, or maybe it’s just the way his eyes are roving over me in a way I’m not familiar with—like he wants to look but feels like he shouldn’t. Regardless, I feel emboldened and can think of nothing other than finding a way to spend more time gazing into his eyes.
Hopefully from beneath him.
Or on top.
I’m a well-rounded kind of girl.
“So,” I say, my eyes dropping to his mouth, his lips plump and beautiful. “What brings you here tonight, Logan? Are you someone’s arm candy, or are you an alum as well?”
“I’m an alum,” he tells me. Then he chuckles and shakes his head, though he continues to watch me. “Quite a few years before you, I’m assuming.”
I bite my lip, enjoying the way he can’t seem to stop watching me. The way his eyes drink in my every curve and line, almost like he can’t help himself.
I’m not self-absorbed enough to assume I meet the tastes of every person on the planet, but the way I look is definitely the right mixture to garner the attention of many men and quite a few women. And men like to look at me. A lot.
My older sister took after my father—tall, lanky, model features—but I’m the spitting image of my mother back when she was in her youth. Barely hitting 5’1” on a good day, wide smile, big brown eyes, thick hair that hasn’t seen its true natural color since I was in junior high. I may be short in stature, but I have the right amount of curves on this petite figure to strike men in just the right spot.
Though if you were to ask her, my mother would likely say just about every feature on my body is wrong.
“You act like that would be surprising to me,” I respond, my hand reaching up and over to his face, my thumb brushing along the sprinkles of gray in his beard. “Hate to break it to you, but I wasn’t assuming we were the same age.”
He takes in a sharp breath as my hand grazes against him, but then he exhales on a laugh, this time something deep and low that causes me to lose my own breath for a second.
“You know, if I were a betting man, I’d say you are quite a bit of trouble,” he tells me, and something about the way he says it implies he isn’t sure whether it’s a good thing or not.
I shrug a shoulder, letting my hand fall away as I take a sip of my drink, all the while watching him over the rim of my glass. When I’m done, I set it on the bar and move just slightly closer to him, this time bringing our bodies almost almost against each other.
“I’m a lot of trouble,” I reply, looking him square in the eye, enjoying how the alcohol in my veins bolsters my natural boldness. “You can definitely bet on it.” Then I reach one hand up and grasp the lapel of his suit, stroking down the expensive fabric with my fingers without looking away. Rising up onto my tiptoes, I whisper in his ear. “But it’s the best kind.”
When I pull back slightly, he stares at me for a long moment, and it feels like I can see so many things happening behind his eyes. Attraction, definitely. Anticipation. Desire. Lust.
But there’s something else there, too. Something I’m not as accustomed to seeing.
And seeing that, even just a little bit of it, makes me suddenly rethink myself. My words. My behavior. Makes me wonder if I’m misreading this situation entirely.
Ultimately, I decide to give him a beat. A chance to think. I might be a tiny thing, but I am a lot of woman to handle, and not every man knows what to do with me.
“Let me know if you feel like getting into some trouble,” I finally say to him, before rising up on my tiptoes again and pressing my lips softly against his cheek.
Then I give him a wink, spin around, and wander off into the crowd, glancing back to find his eyes following me as I go.
An hour and two more drinks later, I’m feeling just the right amount of happy.
Well, kind of.
The world is filled with a full range of drunks.
My friend Wyatt is the brooding kind, slinking into himself and contemplating deeply about the world and his place in it.
That’s just too much mental work.
Then there’s the sleepy drunk. That’s Wyatt’s girlfriend, Hannah—Lucas’ half-sister. One drink too many, and she just wants to curl up and take a nap. It could be anywhere: on the couch or in a chair or on the floor.
There’s no fun in that.
Lucas is the ‘everyone is my best friend’ type, always expressing how much he loves everybody, from family to complete strangers. And Lennon is the quiet, bleary-eyed drunk who smiles along all night but won’t remember any of it tomorrow.
But me? I’m the dancer. The one who has been known to hop up on tables at clubs or strut out to the dance floor and shake my ass for hours…whether I’m feeling a good buzz or not.
Which is a great, fun thing to be when I’m at a club. Or a dance. Or a house party. Or in a dark bedroom with a man and the right song on the stereo.
It’s a lot more difficult when I’m stuck at a boring society event filled with stuffy, upper-crusty families and people I went to school with.
All I want is to head over to the tech booth, which has been steadily churning out boring elevator music likely curated by Lennon’s blue-blooded mother, and beg them to play something fun and upbeat. Something that will encourage even the stuffiest, upper-crustiest of the bunch to shake their groove thang.
Instead, I remind myself of the last time I hijacked an event—my cousin Chastity’s wedding a few weeks after I moved back from New York—and how infuriated my mother was.
I mean, I was going through quite the personal upheaval, and getting so blitzed I didn’t know my own name sounded like the perfect way to deal with it at the time.
But tonight isn’t supposed to be that kind of night. I may be a little drunk and a lot desperate for a good time to distract myself from the realities of the world, but I can exercise at least a modicum of restraint when I choose to do so.
So, like I said: happy kind of drunk, wrong kind of place.
“How come you’re sitting here all by yourself?”
I turn my head and beam when I see Lennon sitting next to me. She looks beautiful, as always, not a single hair out of place even though I know she’s been running around like a crazy person all evening.
This is her event, the big performance to prove to her family that they made the right decision in hiring her for the director position at the Roth Foundation over promoting some others who have been working there for years.
And while I might be a little intoxy-pants, I know without a doubt that she blew it out of the park.
Or…hit it out of the water?
Something like that.
“Just trying not to ‘make a spectacle of myself,’” I say, using air quotes then baring my slightly too-large teeth in a cheesy grin.
“Mommie Dearest?” she asks, and I nod with a giggle, followed closely by a sigh.
Lennon has been calling my mom ‘Mommie Dearest’ since we were kids. Never to her face, of course, because she was raised with all the expectations of East Coast families, and it would be absolutely unconscionable—Lennon’s mother’s words—to tease a friend’s parents.
But if anyone knows the overwhelming feelings that come along with strict, intense, overbearing mothers, it’s Lennon. She has one of her own, which is why it’s easy for us to tease each other about the burden that accompanies the paradigm that ‘mother knows best.’
I’m actually a bit surprised our moms didn’t become closer friends after meeting a decade and a half ago, back when Lennon and Lenora first moved to Hermosa Beach. But as horrible as it sounds, Lenora is old money, and old-money ways look down on the nouveau riche, though it’s often hidden behind pleasantries.
Much to my mother’s dismay, no amount of new money can buy a place in the world of an old-money family like Lenora Roth’s.
“She’s been on your case a lot lately,” Lennon says, eyeing me with concern that can only come from a best friend.
One who knows the depth of your darkest secrets.
I shrug a shoulder and try to paste on the smile I’m so used to wearing.
“It’ll be fine, I’m sure,” I tell her, twisting my phone between my fingers and bumping Lennon on the shoulder, hoping to change the subject. “Great job, tonight. Really.”
“I know you were nervous about the speech, but it turned out so good.”
“Thanks,” she says, nibbling on her lip. “I messed up on the last line and totally forgot Mayor Cabot’s last name.” She grips the bridge of her nose in irritation. “But other than that, things have been going pretty smooth.”
“Where’s Lucas?” I ask, my eyes darting around in search of my other best friend. “I would have bet money he’d stick around to the end.”
She smiles, and I catch that bit of enamored adoration she has for her boyfriend—a role she’s been wanting him to fill for a long time.
“He’s talking with Lou. You know how he loves those cooking shows.”
Lennon hired a celebrity chef for tonight’s festivities, and Lou Bowery is one of Lucas’ favorites. I’m not surprised to hear he’s talking the man’s ear off.
“Tonight really is something special,” I tell her. “I might be swimming in gin right now, but I know you did a spectacular job.”
“We’ll have a directors meeting on Monday afternoon. That’s when all the feedback and critiques will come through,” she says, nibbling on her lip again.
“It’ll be all tens, I’m sure.”
She laughs, then lets out a long sigh. “Alright, I’ve been sitting around long enough. Time to hand out a few donation plaques and thank yous to the board of trustees.” She leans over and plants a kiss on my cheek. “Love you, girlie.”
As Lennon heads off in the direction of the small stage set up along the opposite wall, I take a moment to look around at everything my friend put together tonight.
When I told her she did a great job and everything looks spectacular, I really meant it. From the decorations to the food to the lighting, it’s all thoughtful and intentional.
I’m not surprised, though. That’s just Lennon.
I would love to have her kind of interest in something. Pursue it with the same kind of passion. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see whether that can ever be a reality for me.
Rising from the bench I’ve been sitting on for the past fifteen minutes or so, I dust my hands off and slink away, choosing to wander through the property and drunkenly reminisce about what life was like back when I was a student here.
I was never a joiner. Most of my time as a teen was spent trying to catch the eye of the next guy I had a crush on—not that I dated more than a few of my classmates. I always found them too immature and ridiculous, focused mostly on their own popularity and very rarely able to give me the attention I craved.
So instead of the boys of Roth Prep, I directed my concentration toward men. College boys and the older guys I’d meet at The Wave or Harbors or one of the other spots my father owns, allowing 16-year-old me access without needing ID.
The only times I went to school events were the handful of soccer games I went to in support of Wyatt, who used to play for the school team. Most of my days were spent at the beach, hanging with friends, or partying into the wee hours.
Sometimes, I wonder if not getting involved in school was a mistake, if I missed out on some sort of formative experience that helps youths grow up. Though I would consider the time I spent on my knees underneath Mr. Kelson’s desk to be formative enough.
I smirk, remembering how I took a black Sharpie and scrawled my name on the underside of the 25-year-old’s desk. He was new that year. Fresh out of teacher school, or wherever they go to learn how to keep us teenyboppers in line.
Those were certainly a fun few months of sneaking around, the thrill of not getting caught making each stolen moment feel much more important than it really was.
But just like every good thing, it had to come to an end eventually.
Rounding the corner away from the atrium, I pull on the door to B Block, smiling when it opens. Roth Prep might be a prestigious institution, but that didn’t keep them from lining the hallways with lockers just like so many other schools in the country.
My smile slips a bit when I spot someone standing halfway down the hall, staring at the spot where I know my old locker sits—until I spy who it is, my lips tilting back up at the lucky happenstance.
He looks up at the sound of the door shutting behind me and echoing across the tile floor, and I don’t think I’m imagining the subdued smile he aims my way when he sees me at the other end of the hall.
“Breaking into one of the lockers?” I ask, keeping my tone light and playful even though I feel a little bruised that he didn’t seek me out after our banter at the bar.
Logan slips his hands into the pockets of his suit pants as I walk toward him, only wobbling on my heels once, and come to a stop a foot away from him. “Nah.”
“Bummer, because that’s what I’m doing.”
At my reply, he lets out a low laugh.
“Why does that not surprise me in the slightest?”
“Trouble, remember?” I say, shrugging a shoulder and giving him a wink.
Then I turn my attention to locker 297, the one I had all through high school. Roth Prep is a K-12 academy, but we weren’t given a locker until we hit freshman year. A tragedy considering the amount of books we had to lug around all through middle school. Lucas was 296—we bribed Mrs. Boulder to give us neighboring spots since we were in the same grade and were given B Block lockers during the same year.
Reaching out, I give the lock a try. 12-22-22. Then I give it a tug.
“Oh my gosh,” I say, giggling to myself when I realize the locks haven’t been changed since I graduated. “I can’t believe it still works.”
“I can’t believe we had the same locker.”
My eyes flick up to Logan’s in surprise.
“297?” I ask.
“What are the odds?”
I lift the latch and open it, taking a look inside.
Nothing fancy. A gym shirt and shorts hanging from a hook on the left, a stack of books on the shelf, and a pink mirror attached to the door.
And right there, under the mirror, is a handwritten list of each Roth student who used this tiny space. Marked in various shades of Sharpie and pen and definitely not the look any administrator would want for a reputable academy like this one, but it’s there all the same. Most of the lockers are filled with names, all of them written on the first day of freshman year, with the graduation year written on the last day before the ceremony.
The name at the bottom of the list, halfway down the door, is the current locker owner—someone named Haley Halbrook. Two above that is me. Paige Andrews. Written in hot pink with a heart over the I.
I still do that.
I trace my finger up until I find Logan’s name.
It sounds familiar. I can’t place exactly why, though it’s probably from spending four years with this locker and his name written in black Sharpie at eye level. But who knows?
“See? I told you I graduated quite a while before you.”
Rolling my eyes, I lean a hip against the neighboring locker and cross my arms, my slightly drunken mind scrambling to quickly do the math.
“16 years isn’t that big of a difference.”
I expect him to scoff, tell me something dramatic like…I don’t know, that he’s an entire human being with a driver’s license older than me or something else equally ridiculous. But he doesn’t. He just closes the locker door and shoves the padlock back into place, then leans back against the wall of metal, looking straight ahead.
“Okay, so maybe 16 years is a big difference,” I finally admit, eliciting a low chuckle from somewhere deep in his chest.
Pushing away from the lockers, I take a step to the side so I’m right in front of him, looking deep into his eyes. Or as deep as I can manage with the way my vision is slightly swimming.
“But that’s the fun part of trouble, right?”
My eyes fall to his mouth as he licks his lips, and I know something monumental is going to happen. I can just feel it in the way my stomach is rolling. The way my body heat is rising. The way I feel wobbly on my feet.
I take one step closer, hoping my bravery and interest is enough for both of us since he seems a little gun shy.
“So what’s it gonna be, huh?” I say. “Is my more-than-obvious flirting getting us anywhere?”
He licks his lips again.
“Because I’m gonna be honest…” I lean forward and whisper in his ear. “I’d go anywhere with you.”
There’s a long pause, and I see him take a deep breath. Stand up straight so his long frame towers over me. He reaches out and takes some of my short hair between his fingers. Opens his mouth to say something.
Just as I bend over and throw up all over his leather shoes.